Tag Archives: multiple myeloma

But I raced anyway


I raced a triathlon this past weekend. In the PRO field. I came out of the water last. I never caught up to a single other PRO, short of the one who dropped out. Eight amateurs beat me. And I knew it would all shake out like this before I stepped to the starting line. But I raced anyway. Because after a year off, a year of having only enough energy to stay afloat in #grief, I missed that place in my mind that I can only reach on a race course. 

#lifeafterloss #teampoppy #imvictoria703 

Before Dessert

Last night fourteen strangers in our 20s and 30s gathered around a dinner table. Potluck style. We shared dishes and tears and hopes for #lifeafterloss. And before dessert, we had become a community.

(Check out TheDinnerParty.org to learn more and to join a table in your town.)

Fighter’s Stance: IRONMAN Arizona 2013 Race Report

Zoot shoes

I assume a wide stance, like a fighter. But like a fighter who was just punched in the stomach. 

Knees wide, capped by the palms of my hands, my fighter’s stance supports a violently heaving upper half.

I know how this story ends, I think to myself.

And then, somewhere in the 19th mile of IRONMAN Arizona run course, I throw up for the 5th time.

Yes, I know how this story ends.

Kathmandu Hospital

I recall the last time I threw up with such force and frequency. That story ended in a Nepalese hospital with IVs pumping life into a body succumbed to amoebic dysentery.  Then, halfway across the world, living in a dusty little village, contaminated water was likely to blame.

But now, hunched over in the land of plenty, I struggle to make sense of what is causing this to happen. The nausea, the dizziness, the disorientation.

Going to Cry

This was not at all how things were supposed to be. Not at all what I imagined each morning I beat the sun up to crush wattage on my trainer. Not at all what I dreamed those nights I trained in the dark, skipped the dessert, and put myself to bed early.

No, this was not a part of the plan.

I wonder if my father had a similar thought when the doctor diagnosed a cancer he had never heard of. I wonder if he questioned where myeloma, then with a 5-year-average survival rate, fit into his plan.  And I wonder after the myeloma forced him to trade his 40-year running ritual for a walk, how deeply painful those first walking steps must have been.

I take my first walking steps. Not just of IRONMAN. Not just of a triathlon. But the first walking steps I have ever taken in a race. I had never walked in the Turkey Trot at my elementary school.  Never in my high school cross country meets.  Never in a 5k or a 10k or a marathon.  No, in 27-years of running, I have never walked.

Don't Walk Sign

But today I take my first walking steps. Because I know this story would otherwise end before the finish line.

I take my first walking steps because today, more than in any other trot or meet or race in which walking was not an option,  I need to get myself to that finish line.

With each walking step, I understand that there is no PR or Kona slot or course record waiting for me there.

But I also understand that each walking step takes me closer to the man who taught me the fighter’s stance, the man who assumes that fighter’s stance even from the chair in which he sits each week as the chemotherapy pumps into his veins.

Boxer Triathlete

Right about now, as I am slumped over on the side of the road, tasting a horrifically acidic version of everything I have swallowed in the last hour, I know that my mom is sharing my surprise with my dad. Telling him that the MMRF and the IRONMAN foundation have arranged VIP passes into the finisher’s chute so that he can medal me.

IMAZ Finish Line with Dad

Walking hurts. Walking humbles.

But I need not explain that to my dad. Like so many other feelings I have never spoken, he knows.

So he squeezes me extra tight when I walk across the finish line and into his arms.

IMAZ Finish

The details needed to make this an actual race report:

Swim: 1:08

A bit violent, a little choppy, but pleased with my swimming improvement.

Bike: 5:12

Started to feel nauseous about a quarter into the bike. Did this bike by feel, as my heart rate monitor would not pick up the beat. Erred on the side of a conservative effort, backed off even more because of the nausea, but it never subsided until long after I crossed the finish line. As a result, my legs felt daisy fresh when I finished the bike

Run: 4:13

The best of that story is told above.  The worst has hopefully evaporated in the Arizona sun.

Total: 10:42

Second only to Hurricane St. George in time needed to complete. My sixth IRONMAN, but of course not my last.

IMAZ Run v2

Huge thanks to:

–Dave Deschenes of IRONMAN and Alicia of the MMRF for arranging our finish line father-daughter hugs.

–My parents, Uncle J, Aunt Stevie, Jeffrey, Maja, and Nate for being my support crew!

Zoot Sports: It’s hard to look good while throwing up on the side of the course, but that Zoot kit made it possible.

SmartWool: Though I faced many challenges during this race, blisters were not one of them.

Nalgene: Thankfully, proper pre-race hydration got me across the finish line when my body rejected all during-race hydration.

–Coach Tim of QT2, boy do we have a lot of work left to do.

IMAZ Plan

Rules for Dads and Daughters

Blinded by Happiness

Each year of my childhood, my parents gave me one (and only one) birthday gift. Instead of a single day each year, my parents explained, we celebrate your birth 365 days a year.

What a lame birthday present policy, the 8-year-old-me pouted.

In comparing myself to my friends, who were showered with birthday toys and games and clothes, I felt like I had been cheated by my hippie parents.

Unitard

I wasn’t old enough yet to understand the  value of a VW-camper road trip to Oregon, of weeks spent camping at San Elijo State Beach, or of skiing in my father’s tracks on Mammoth Mountain.

But now I am.

Ski Under Dad

So when I read Michael Mitchell’s “50 Rules for Dads of Daughters,” #41 reminded me of my father:

Take it easy on the presents for her birthday and Christmas. Instead, give her the gift of experiences you can share together.

Grandmas Couch

My parents didn’t just preach this policy in my childhood, they continue to practice it. When my dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2003, he mapped out a path that would maximize life’s experiences for a man facing a 5-year average survival rate.

He retired and downsized. He trained for a marathon with me and ran every step of the way by my side. He visited me at my adoptive homes in Ecuador and Washington, DC. He planned his chemotherapy treatments around spectating my IRONMAN triathlons.

Marathon with Poppy

At some point in the last couple of years, as his chemotherapy tethered him a bit tighter to his home base, and I shifted from penniless Peace Corps Volunteer to paid professional, it was my turn to put my parents’ present policy into practice.

This Father’s Day, instead of sending a present and a card, I packed a suitcase, boarded a plane, and created a week of new experiences with my entire family. For the first time in over a decade, the original Team Poppy Tony was together for Father’s Day.

Father's Day 2013

For many families, cancer is a curse. It invades, quietly destroys, and leaves unanswered questions in the wreckage. For my family, however, cancer has been a blessing.

First, in forcing me to face my father’s mortality, I have recognized my own. I have dedicated the years since his diagnosis to the kind of experiences I would seek if I were facing my final years of life: serving rural communities in developing countries, hiking volcanoes, learning to swim, and always choosing the long way home.

More importantly, without his cancer diagnosis, I would have waited too long to process my father’s influence on my life and missed the opportunity to express to him the extent of his influence. And I probably would have sent him a Father’s Day present this year, instead of bringing him the gift of a family sunset from the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Father's Day 2013 Poppy and the Boys

May our dads, grandpas, uncles, brothers, and neighbors know the impact they have had on our lives. May we seize today as the best day to tell them. And may we celebrate our own mortality long before we have to face it.

ChiTo’s Racing Retirement: Oceanside 70.3 Race Report

ChiTo P3 Tattoo

Some races begin long before the cannon fires. Such was the 2013 Oceanside 70.3 for me.

A week before race day, I flew out to visit the fam and train in some warmer weather. Out on a short interval ride with ChiTo, my one and only bike, I mashed aggressively and blissfully on the pedals. In the zone, breath quickening, I shifted to maximize power, and then lost it all at once. ChiTo’s crank arm stopped dead in its tracks, the chain wedging itself mid-mash between the frame and chain ring before forcing its way through the tight spot and ripping open the carbon. (And with it, my heart).

ChiTo damage

Ouch

Within hours, my dad and I were at the carbon doctor who diagnosed a four-week repair time for ChiTo.  Only a few days separated me from the season opener for which I had traveled across the country to race. I was equal parts devastated and distraught.

Trashcanned

But ChiTo’s un-race-able verdict was handed down just hours before I learned that my parents’ best man, a friend to my dad for 60 years, had lost his noble battle with cancer.

The death of my father’s friend and thoughts of the wife and five kids he left behind were poignant reminders that none of us will ever have enough time with our parents. That too much distance separates my home on the East Coast from my parents’ home out West. That our visits are too few and far between.

Because of my dad’s hot chemo dates with the oncology nurses, he is not able to travel to most of my races. I chose Oceanside 70.3 because he, my mom, and my whole family would be there. Not racing was not an option.

But dropping a few thousand dollars on a bike didn’t seem like much of an option either, so I searched for a bicycle to rent for race day.

AeroBike

Not aero enough

Biker Steve Makes Noise

No room for a hydration kit

Bike Too Orange

Too Orange

Thankfully, Bike Bling of Escondido not only had a Cervelo P3 in my size, they helped me afford it. Their generosity means so much more than they will ever know; replacing ChiTo with the new racing machine means that once ChiTo’s carbon integrity is fully restored, he can remain in San Diego for me to ride as trips home grow more frequent.

Bo at Bike Bling with Baabu the new P3

Thank you, Bo! Thank you, Bike Bling.

I wish the pre-race story ended there.

For obvious reasons, the fit was hurried and imperfect. The aero bars on this new bike weren’t quite right. And 24 hours before the race, I was still making adjustments in my parents’ garage with a ruler and a multi-tool.  I feared what Saturday would bring on a bike not yet ready to race.

Biking without Bikes

Race Day

Freezing in the Harbor

Oceanside 70.3 Swim

I entered the cold waters of Oceanside Harbor and glided through the swim. The waters were smooth, the course straightforward, and the times fast. I hear the course was even short. But all I was thinking about was the stranger of a bike awaiting me in transition.

Climbing the Hills

Anxiety over racing a bike without a proper fit and with just 15 miles to its name freed me from concerns over the course’s hills and headwinds. I had been too busy driving to and from the bike store and carbon doctor to study the bike course’s elevation chart.

Oceanside 70.3 Bike

But I LOVED it. Moving north along the Pacific Ocean with the tailwinds, then into the climbers of Camp Pendleton, and finally through the headwinds all the way back to Oceanside pier. I had the second fastest amateur bike split of the day (2:38:04), behind the very strong Sonja Wieck (2:37:40).

Running Around

Out of T2, I spotted Jocelyn Cornman on her second and final loop of the run course. We exchanged words of encouragement and I pushed myself to maintain her rhythm. Jocelyn is a pro, and a very strong runner—I remember clearly when she blazed past me at Kona last year on her way to a World Championship podium finish. 

Oceanside 70.3 Run

Though out-and-backs can be momentum-busting on tired legs, the layout of this course gave me the opportunity to share cheers with some of the friends I made last year traveling across the country racing triathlon.  I am so thankful for the words, smiles, and thumbs up from Cathleen, Sydnie, James, Mustafa, Rene, and my new teammate, Hana.

I ran a patient race, which is all I could do. With just six miles to go,  I was still in fourth place, still 5 minutes behind the leader. But I worked to keep the risky pace from my first loop and grabbed a new Half-IRONMAN personal best (4:46), an IRONMAN half marathon personal best (1:29), and a place atop the amateur podium.

Hana, Chuck, Kgo Oceanside 70.3 V2

My Zoot mates, Chuck (amateur male champ) and Hana (Czech beauty queen)

Last season, in the days leading up to Kona, I had dreamt of carbon damage so extensive that it sidelined me from competition. So it was truly empowering this week when, after my great fear was realized, I realized everything would still be okay.

Everything is Better than You Thought

In memory of Don Lynn. Sending hugs to the Lynn Family.

HUGE thanks:

To Rybop, Katie, Jenbop, BrotherD, Godmother and Sherpa mother and father:

Oceanside 70.3 Sherpa Parents v2

To my champion nephews:

Podium Nephews Oceanside 70.3 v2

To my new teammate Hana:

Hana and Kgo 2

To my Coach, the German Sage.

To Zoot. Hot new kits! Tons of support. Love this team!

To Smartwool. 25,000 more steps. Zero blisters.

Zoot Shoes at Oceanside 70.3

The #1 reason to race Oceanside 70.3

If You Build It

Devils Postpile Circa 80s Cropped

I was eight the first time I saw Field of Dreams.

I was eight the first time I saw my father cry.

It was no coincidence.

Sniffling, wiping tears from his eyes, my father explained that the movie reminded him of his father.

I was 22 the last time I saw my father cry. He called my mom, my sister and then me into the living room. He spoke softly. Something about cancer. And then there were misty eyes. And then words. And then tears mixed with the words and then the words sounded like tears and then the crying wasn’t for some movie that reminded my dad of his dad. It was for my dad.

That was exactly ten years ago today. We haven’t had much time for tears since then. Too many chemo infusions and IRONMAN competitions. My dad took charge of the former while I worked on the latter. By the end of 2012, “Team Poppy Tony” had raised $45,000 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (the MMRF), which continues to play a key role in the research and development of my father’s treatments.

MMRF NYC Marathon

This January, I wanted to celebrate 10 years of my father’s cancer-fighting courage and optimism with something new. I wanted to design an event that would be as fun as it was fundraising. And just like that, Team Poppy Fest was born.

Team Poppy Fest Flyer

After nailing down a venue, I wrote letters to triathlon companies to request donations for the raffle. Within a few weeks, my mailbox overflowed with gift cards, triathlon gear, and cycling gloves. Sunglasses multiplied, backpacks had babies. Soon, my bedroom doubled as a prize storage unit. 

Felt F4

Pearl Izumi Gear

On January 17th, nearly 300 (!!!) folks piled into Bailey’s Pub to win some fan-freakin’-tastic prizes. And by the end of the night, we had raised $13,000 for blood cancer research.

At one point during the night, I thought of that old Field of Dreams quip. “If you build it, (they) will come.” Many thanks to the generous prize donors who helped us build it, and to all of those who came.

Banner for Team Poppy Fest

Team Poppy Fest Prizes on Tables

Team Poppy Fest Raffle Pan

Team Poppy Fest Bike Raffle

Team Poppy Fest Winning Ticket

And the winner is…Team Poppy!

Click here to see more pictures from our lovely photographer, Beth Sullins.

GIVING THANKS TO OUR WONDERFUL PRIZE DONORS:

My Father’s Daughter: Race Report Kona 2012

“I hear the winds in Kona are as fierce as the heat,” my dad said on the other end of the line.

Two weeks separated me from the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.  My dad would be cheering for me from across the Pacific. Since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2003, he has more than outlived the 5-year average survival rate. And though he continues to defy the odds, his chemotherapy occasionally cuffs him to California.

“I hope Kona isn’t like Hurricane St. George,” he laughed.

Note: Picture not to scale

I laughed too, recalling that it took me 1 hour and 51 minutes (!!!) to escape the St. George swim alive.

But instead of agreeing with my dad, I told him that I hoped race day would bring the windiest and hottest day Kona had ever seen.  I wasn’t racing for time, I reminded him. I was racing for place.

But I was also racing the strongest, most-experienced triathletes in the world.

On a course with easy, breezy conditions, the outcome will favor the triathlete with the greatest physical prowess.  Having raced my first triathlon only 18 months before and having learned to swim 6 months before that, I knew that I could not compete on the international level on physical terms alone.

But the harsher the conditions, I told my dad, the larger role fortitude would play in the outcome of the race. Should the winds kick up and the sun beat down, my mental game could help me minimize the experience gap.

“Well, you always liked a great challenge,” my dad replied.

 

Swim

1:14:17

The greatest challenge I have faced in the past 18 months is open water panic.

I pinpointed the source of panic as the rough contact experienced during a mass swim start. I set about to overcome that fear with the help of some riot police in Kona.

After some convincing, the riot police agreed to let me swim with them in practice while they simultaneously pushed, punched, and pulled me under water. With each day, I panicked a little less. And before the cannon fired on race day, I felt mentally prepared to face my open water demon.

Drafting in the water (i.e., swimming in someone’s slipstream) is legal, unlike drafting on the bike. AND it leads to faster swim splits.  But until this race, I had lined up far from my competitors, bypassing the drafting advantage that comes with a higher risk of kicks to the head. This time though, I lined up close to my competitors, jumped on a pair of feet, and gained the drafting advantage for the first time in my life. After much body contact, and some salt water in my belly, I exited the water in 1:14. No fear. No panic attack.

Though I emerged 18 minutes behind the leader, my mental game was on. And I couldn’t wait to put it to the Queen K test.

Bike

5:38:25

As I biked toward the Queen K, Sherpa Jeffrey yelled that I was 43rd out of the water. Though further behind than I anticipated, I put it back in perspective.  Two years ago, I laughed at my brother-in-law when he suggested racing an Ironman together. “Brother,” I said, “I can’t swim.”

“If anyone is tough enough to learn girl, it’s you,” he argued.

This memory filled my eyes with tears, momentarily spiked my heart rate, and gave a bolt of energy to my legs. I gave my brother those first 10 miles for seeing something in me that I never would have seen myself.

I focused on even pedal stroke, strong breaths, and catching superior swimmers for the next 50 miles, which got me to the turnaround at Hawi with a 22mph average. Of course, the crosswinds were too strong for me to notice the tailwind. So when I hit the turnaround only to face a brutal headwind, I watched my average speed drop off precipitously. I struggled to keep my heart rate up. My legs felt more like they should at the end of a build cycle. And I still had 52 miles to go.

1267–one of many looking for the draft-legal race

In preparation for those low points, I had written on my left hand the names of five people who would never have the opportunity to do what I was doing, people who know the true meaning of harsh conditions. People whose courage I would honor as I faced the day. I gave each of them 10 miles during which time I replayed in my mind memories we had made long before I knew triathlon.

Those thoughts carried me into T2 with a smile.

Mind and body had weathered the wind.

And we biked our way into 21st place.

Run

3:29:26

My left hand carried five names, but my right carried five words.

Every time I step into my running shoes, I acknowledge that I am doing something that my father once loved to do, taught me to do, but can no longer do himself. When I run, I run for both of us.

With a patient and steady pace over the first 9 miles, I had worked my way from 21st into 17th.

It was around 2pm, the hottest recorded point of the day.  The next 15 miles took me out and back along the boiling blacktop of the Queen K Highway. I hear the heat index exceeded 100 degrees. I hear it felt like a furnace. I hear there wasn’t a single ocean breeze. But I can’t remember any of that.

Instead, I remember my legs and mind running us into a 9th place finish. In the WORLD!

As I lay in bed that night, too elated to sleep, I revisited several of the pre-race conversations I had with Kona veterans. A few in particular advised me to view my first Kona more as a learning experience than a competition. “You’re new to the course, you don’t know that heat, and you’ll make mistakes,” one told me. “Odds are not in your favor.”

That’s okay, I remember thinking to myself.

I am my father’s daughter.

Though not my father, this man carries a similar outlook on life

Mahalo:

To our friends and family who fight for Team Poppy Tony!

To the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) for fighting to advance the cure with body and mind.

To Jeffrey, my patient and loyal Sherpa. More on his awesomeness here.

To my German Sage, for helping me weather The Kona Syndrome.

To Coach Cummings, for teaching me to aim beyond the qualification.

To Muscle MilkZensahChocolate #9, and Optimal Swimming.

And to the 5,000 (!!!) volunteers who make an Ironman World Championship happen! Here, with my favorite volunteers, Tracey and Mike:

This was right after Tracey told me that I got Top 10…I was crying tears of joy 🙂

More Tears of Joy. Thank you, Mike!